It might just be another public holiday for some but for many more, Australia Day is becoming a topic of growing debate. The question being, why should it continue to be a national day of celebration when it more accurately signifies the colonisation and subsequent massacre of the Aboriginal people?
The Australia Day promotional billboard of the two young girls wearing hijabs, which were taken down following death threats has highlighted what is at stake when we see an issue from within a limited vantage point, and lacking an overarching framework.
The problem, supposedly, was that the billboard didn’t accurately reflect ‘Australia Day’. For the vocal minority, it was a case of political correctness gone mad and that Muslims (especially those wearing hijabs) do not, cannot and should not represent what it is to be Australian. The backlash immediately elicited a counter response about Australia’s diversity and the benefits of multiculturalism.
Yet, as the Change the Date protests have shown, the subsequent crowd funding raised to reinstate the billboard (however well-intentioned), ignored the facts of Australia Day and the reality of Indigenous lives since the arrival of the First Fleet. It’s a case of recognising one form of racism and discrimination at the expense of another: in speaking out against Islamaphobia we’ve failed to see that there’s also another group of people who are affected by other forms of racism. In effect, Aboriginal people fell through the cracks of the counter-protest and became invisible.
Kimberlé Crenshaw refers to this inability to recognise who might be implicated and affected by a problem as a ‘trickle-down approach to social justice’ because the frame for understanding injustice is limited. The frame, as Crenshaw urges, needs to be an intersectional frame so that it will allow us to think about how every social problem impacts all members of a group. Especially those made vulnerable by various power dynamics and processes such as racism and sexism.
As for Australia Day, intersectional thinking will allow us to broaden our understanding of not only what it means for all Australians but also how Aboriginal Australians have been and continue to be impacted by racism, sexism, and colonisation in all its multiple and overlapping forms.
So whatever you decide to do on Australia Day next year, whether it be celebrating, protesting or advocating, it’s important to think about who you’re doing it for and who needs to be doing it with you.